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The set of Women Beware Women is deceptively simple. Nothing more than a multi-level platform painted to resemble cobblestones, the stage is entirely devoid of furniture or props.
It is the perfect setting for a two-and a half-hour play laden with treachery, deceit, romance and tragedy.
Women Beware Women is an entertaining excursion through the darker side of human, and more specifically female, nature. Kate Powell (GSAS) is riveting in the role of Livia, the evil-hearted, self-centered perpetrator of much of the conflict that exists in this complex, somewhat scandalous production that was performed last weekend at the Loeb Experimental Theater.
Written by Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton in the early 17th century, Women Beware Women might seem at risk of being somewhat out-of-date: the tricky iambic pentameter of the dialogue and rather archaic betrothal practices are more reminiscent of Shakespearean times than they are of modern day America. However, the production is at times so wicked, so sensationalist (think lots of incest and death), that the audience can't help but be captivated. Whether it be the orgy at the end of the first act or the well-choreographed (but comedic) swordplay that results in death and still more death, this show is, if nothing else, entertaining.
Women Beware Women opens with the recent nuptials of Leantio (Fred Hood '02) and his new bride Bianca (Annalise Nelson '02). Unfortunately, in the third week of their marriage, Bianca is seen by the lascivious Duke of Florence (Dan Hughes '01), who then orchestrates a meeting and rapes her. This spirals into an extremely complicated plot mired in incest, murder and sex.
Sparkling performances are given by James Mangwi '00 as the disapproving, moralizing brother of the Duke, and Stian Westlake (GSAS) as Hippolito, who delivers his lines with suitably lovelorn anguish (and has the crazy hair to match his moods). Hood's performance as Leantio is also quite compelling, and does well in engendering the audience's sympathy, as does the idiotic ward, Bill Maskiell '02, who induces a different kind of sympathy altogether.
The creative use of space and the smaller dimensions of the Loeb Experimental Theater also make this production seem larger than life. Montel cleverly utilizes the different levels of the stage and the concept of distance to vary the intimacy of each scene. Mellow musical interludes provide for subtle scene transitions.
There are a few problems with this version of Women Beware Women. Some of the modern elements that are included in the show are anachronistic and slightly disrupt the continuity of the play. For instance, the ward is a die-hard Dungeons & Dragons fan and masturbates to nudie magazines, while Livia lures Bianca over to her home with a telephone call. Also, the intricacy of the plot, and the confusing dialogue of the production leave the fates of some members of the cast rather uncertain.
Overall though, Women Beware Women is an accomplishment for all involved. While the non-stop melodrama and treachery seem a bit over the top at times, it is tastefully done. The cast does an excellent job in giving life to the complex language of the work, while the orchestration of the final scene cleverly draws attention to a number of events that seem to be unfolding onstage simultaneously.
Women Beware Women is both disturbing and amusing. A thought-provoking performance that plays on the entire range of emotions, this production succeeds in driving home the warning that women should beware women, and men should beware them too.
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